Softball Bears set to host Illinois State



The Missouri State softball team will host Illinois State in a doubleheader Friday (March 21) at 1 p.m., followed by a single game Saturday (March 22) starting at noon at MSU Softball Field in Springfield, Mo. The Bears are 12-4 overall and 1-1 in MVC play. The first game (1 p.m.) of Friday’s twinbill, as well as Saturday’s contest against the Redbirds will be broadcast by Meyer Communications on KBFL-1060 AM.

Inclement weather has wreaked havok on the Bears’ schedule, most recently prompting the cancelation of a scheduled doubleheader Tuesday (March 18) at Oklahoma State. The Bears defeated No. 11 Oklahoma 3-2 Wednesday (March 19) at Norman, Okla. Weather problems have also kept Illinois State off the field, as the Redbirds have been idle for nearly three weeks. ISU’s series with Creighton was completely washed away last weekend and, as a result, Friday’s first contest will be the Redbirds’ MVC opener.

The Redbirds Illinois State enters the weekend series at Missouri State with a 10-10 overall record. The Redbirds finished second in the conference in 2007 with a 18-7-1 mark. Illinois State returns seven letterwinners from last year’s NCAA Tournament qualifying squad that finished with a 44-17-1 mark .

Series Records Missouri State trails the series with the Redbirds by a 50-26 margin. The Bears were winless in three games against Illinois State in Normal last year.

Coach Holly Hesse Missouri State head coach Holly Hesse (Creighton, ’82) is 513-483-2 (.514) in her 20th season at Missouri State. Last season, the Bears finished 21-29 overall. Hesse led the Bears to a school-record 40 wins and a berth in the NCAA Tournament in 2006. Hesse’s teams have made four trips to the NCAA Tournament (1996, 1997, 1998, 2006) and have won four Missouri Valley Conference tournament championships. She also led the Bears to the Gateway Conference regular season championship in 1992 and the MVC regular season title in 1994. Last year’s second place MVC finish marked the 12th time during her tenure the Bears have finished in the top-five of the conference standings. Last season was also the sixth time the Bears have won 30 games in a season, with an average of nearly 27 wins per season since her arrival in 1989. Hesse won her 500th career game at Missouri State in a 1-0 triumph over Indiana State on April 22, 2007. She joined only Illinois State’s Melinda Fischer in the MVC and an elite group of 41 active head coaches with 500 Division I wins. The Missouri State Bears are playing in their 40th season and have an all-time record of 892-719-2 (.553).

Last Time Out Missouri State scored three runs on four hits in the top of the fifth en route to a 3-2 victory over No. 11 ranked Oklahoma, Wednesday, at Norman, Okla. The softball Bears are now 12-4 overall, following their first victory over a nationally ranked opponent since defeating No. 20 Southern Illinois on April 15, 2007.

Senior Melissa Porche limited Oklahoma (25-8) to four hits and one earned run in her sixth complete game of the season to improve to 6-3 overall.

Missouri State scored all three of its runs in the top half of the fifth. A lead-off walk to senior Michelle Armentrout was followed by a single by junior Jessie Smith. Armentrout was the Bears’ first out of the inning at third base when junior Elysha Swider reached on a fielder’s choice. Junior Jana Shewmaker’s RBI single on an 0-2 pitch scored Smith from second. Swider advanced to third and Shewmaker to second on the throw home. A pair of freshman then came through with clutch RBI hits for the Bears. Jenna Schwark singled to left, scoring Swider and moving Shewmaker to third, and Ashley Knehans’ pinch-hit single to center scored Shewmaker with the game-winner moments later.

OU scored the game’s first run in the third. A lead-off walk and a throwing error by Porche, which allowed the next batter to reach base, gave the Sooners runners on second and third with no outs. Porche escaped the inning with minimal damage, however, as the Sooners managed just a lone run on a scarifice fly. The Sooners threatened again in the sixth, but with runners on second and third, Smith caught a pop-up at shortstop to end the scoring threat.

Missouri State faced a trio of OU pitchers in the contest, including Sooner ace D.J. Mathis (16-3). Starter Lauren Eckermann (7-3) and relief pitcher Jadyn Smith gave way to Mathis in the Bears’ sixth. With two on and nobody out a passed ball advanced freshman Tyler Porter to third and Porche to second. Smith slammed the door on the MSU threat by retiring three consecutive batters to end the inning.

500 Club Missouri State head coach Holly Hesse picked up her 500th victory at Missouri State with a 1-0 win over Indiana State (4/22/07). Hesse became the third coach to join the 500-win club in the Valley, joining Illinois State’s Melinda Fischer and Creighton’s Brent Vigness. Only 47 active Division I coaches began the 2007 season with more than 500 wins. Hesse picked up her 400th win against Indiana State on March 20, 2004, with a 9-1 victory over the Sycamores in Springfield.

Bears Among MVC Leaders Missouri State players listed among the top 10 in Missouri Valley Conference statistical categories this season include: Melissa Porche is first in ERA (0.90) and saves (6), second in opponent batting average (.188), third in strikeouts (83), fourth in shutouts (2) and fifth in appearances (15), complete games (6) and innings pitched (69.2). Porche is off to a blistering start at the plate, ranked ninth in slugging percentage (.583); Michelle Armentrout is third in on base percentage (.481), fourth in slugging percentage (.644) and doubles (6) and sixth in batting average (.378); Christa Gammon is third in steals (7).

In team categories Missouri State is ranked first in ERA (1.40) and fielding percentage (.981) and third in batting average (.271).

Several Bears finished among the top 10 in MVC statistical categories last season. Porche was second in the league in innings pitched (232.0) and games started (35). She finished fourth in strikeouts (222), tied for third in appearances (41), and seventh in earned-run average (2.17).

Jessie Smith led the league with 17 stolen bases and Brooke Kempker topped the hit by pitch category, with 10. Jen Carr’s perfect fielding percentage tied atop the category, as she was one of only five players to be errorless with over 100 fielding chances.

Powerful Porche Missouri State senior pitcher Melissa Porche is the Missouri Valley Conference Pitcher of the Week (3/17). A Buena Park, Calif., native, Porche appeared in each of the Bears’ four games, going 1-1 with her MVC-leading fourth and fifth saves of the season in 16 1/3 innings of work. Porche earned the victory in MSU’s 14-2 win over Saint Louis (3/2), working four innings and allowing just two hits and one earned run. She came back to save the nightcap of the twinbill, recording 2 2/3 innings of two-hit relief to close out the 4-1 MSU victory.

Porche started Friday’s (3/14) conference opener against Indiana State, turning in a complete-game effort in the Bears’ 1-0 loss. She bounced back to save a 2-1 decision for MSU in the second game of the doubleheader, closing the door on the Sycamores by registering the final seven outs of the game.

In all, Porche struck out 17 batters allowed 10 hits and just two earned runs to lower her conference-leading ERA to 0.89.

This marks the second time in Porche’s MSU career that she has earned the same accolade and she leads the conference in ERA (0.90) and saves (5). She struck out a 2008 MVC- and career-high 19 batters in the Bears’ 1-0 nine-inning win over Saint Louis (3/1). Her offensive numbers include .313 batting average, .583 slugging percentage, 28 total bases and team-highs in RBIs (14) and and homers (3). She had a five-RBI performance in the Bears’ 13-7 win over Saint Louis (3/2). Her team-leading pitching statistics include wins (6-3), ERA (0.90), complete games (6), shutouts (2), saves (5), innings pitched (69.2), strikeouts (83) and opponent batting average (.188).

Porche to the Rescue Porche picked up three saves in the Florida Atlantic "Strike Out" Cancer Tournament (Feb. 15-17). She went 1-1 as a starter in the Bears’ season-opening tournament, strking out 27 opposing batters in 20 innings and compiling a 1.35 ERA. Porche earned her fourth save of the season in the Bears’ 4-1 win over Saint Louis (3/12) and her league-leading fifth against Indiana State (2/14). She led the country with seven saves as a sophomore in 2006.

Impact Freshmen -- Missouri State’s freshmen are making a big impact for the Bears in 2008. Ashley Knehans is hitting .308 and her RBI single was the game-winner in the Bears’ 3-2 victory over No. 11 Oklahoma (3/19). A pair of freshmen have become mainstays at the top of the batting order. Leadoff hitter Christa Gammon is hitting .283 and leads the team in steals with seven on eight attempts. Number two hitter Tyler Porter is batting .288, and Jenna Schwark is hitting .200.

Off to the Races Missouri State stole an MVC-high eight bases in the Bears’ 13-7 win over Saint Louis (3/2). MSU is 24-of-31 in stolen base attempts with freshman Christa Gammon leading the Bears at 7-for-8. Junior Jessie Smith, who led the league with 17 stolen bases a year ago, is 4-of-6 so far in 2008.

One-Run Setbacks Missouri State didn’t experience much luck in one-run games last season, as the Bears were 4-9 in games decided by one run. The Bears are 7-3 this season in one-run games.

No Run Support In 16 of pitcher Melissa Porche’s 19 losses last season, MSU was shut out or scored only one run. The Bears have been shut out in two of Porche’s starts this season -- a 1-0 loss to Long Island (2/15) in the Bears’ season-opener and a 1-0 decision against Indiana State (2/14).

Early Offense Missouri State is 9-1 when scoring the first run of the game, and 5-0 when scoring a run in the first inning in 2008. The Bears were 20-5 last season when scoring the first run of the game, and 15-3 when tallying a run in the first inning. On the contrast, MSU was 1-24 when its opponent scored first, including an 1-10 mark when the opposition scores in the first inning. Missouri State won their only game when an opponent scored first when the Bears rallied from a two-run Northern Iowa opening frame to take a 10-8 victory on April 7.

MVP for McGinley Sophomore pitcher Lauren McGinley is off to a fast start in 2008. McGinley was selected the MVP of the Florida Atlantic "Strike Out" Cancer Tournament (Feb. 15-17) in Boca Raton, Fla. She earned three wins in 11.2 inings of work en route to a 0.77 ERA.

Bean Ball Brooke Kempker led the Valley in a category she’d rather not-- hit by pitch in 2007. The junior outfielder from Jefferson City, Mo., was hit 10 times last season in 127 plate appearances. She had been hit in seven of her first 34 appearances, which was equal to once every five times she stepped to the plate. Kempker, started 39 games and played in 43, and ranked second on the team with a .376 on-base percentage. Kempker has been hit by a pitch once in 2008. Freshman Ashley Knehans has been hit a team-high three times this season.

Last Year The 2007 Missouri State softball team was plagued by injuries and inconsistency as the Bears finished with a 21-29 record, the program's fewest wins since 2001. Newcomers accounted for 204 starts, including 136 by the team's four freshmen, as inexperience played a factor in the team's struggles. The Bears started the season with a five-game winning streak but ended the campaign with six straight losses, and had four losing streaks of more than four games during the season. The team's competition was stiff, as the Bears played 10 games against teams that made the 2007 NCAA Tournament.

The Bears struggled offensively, finishing ninth of 10 teams in the Missouri Valley Conference in batting average (.236) and hits (292). Defensively, Missouri State was very solid, finishing third in the MVC and 29th nationally with a .969 fielding percentage. On the mound, MSU relied very heavily on junior Melissa Porche, who pitched in 41 of the 49 games and accounted for 71 percent of the team's innings pitched.

Despite the disappointing record, the 2007 Bears featured numerous outstanding performances and accomplishments. Head coach Holly Hesse picked up her 500th career Division I coaching victory in a 1-0 triumph over Indiana State on April 22. Hesse joins only Illinois State's Melinda Fischer in the MVC and an elite group of 41 active head coaches with 500 Division I wins.

The team's record could have been much different had it not been for many close losses. The Bears were 4-9 in one-run games and 1-5 in extra inning games. Three was the magical number for the 2007 Bears, as the team was an impressive 19-3 when scoring three or more runs but was 2-26 when failing to tally three runs. Missouri State was also 17-4 when leading after the third inning, but 1-20 when trailing after the third frame.

In the Record Books Several current players have etched their names into the Missouri State softball record books. As a freshman in 2006, Jessie Smith scored 40 runs and hit eight home runs to rank third for a single season in each category. Her 87 total bases were also sixth-most all-time. Michelle Armentrout recorded 138 assists from third base in 2006 to rank fifth in a single season. Her 31 RBIs are also 10th-most all-time. Smith and pitcher Melissa Porche both recorded perfect fielding percentages last season to tie atop the category. Porche also recorded a perfect fielding percentage in 2005, as did catcher Lacie Ballard.

Former Players as Coaches Fourteen of coach Holly Hesse’s former players have gone on to become coaches. Those currently coaching at the collegiate level are Annie Medico (head coach- Drury), Tina Kramos (assistant- Illinois State), Sara Cole (assistant- Evansville), and Deanna Keim (graduate assistant- Central Missouri). Also included are Katie Martin (student assistant) and Courtney Owens (student assistant) currently at Missouri State; both were members of last years’ 40-win team.

MVC Preseason Poll The Missouri State softball team was picked to finish fifth in the 2008 Missouri Valley Conference coaches’ preseason poll. Regular season and MVC tournament champion Creighton was the overwhelming favorite among coaches, gathering nine first-place votes and 97 points total. Wichita State received the other first-place vote and garnered 85 total points. Southern Illinois (81) and Illinois State (72) were selected third and fourth respectively.The Bears received 52 points, followed by Bradley (46), Evansville (44), Indiana State (35), Drake (25) and Northern Iowa (13).



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